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[casi] FW: Robert Fisk/ this is not liberation but a new colonial oppression

Robert Fisk: For the people on the streets, this is
not liberation but a new colonial oppression
America's war of 'liberation' may be over. But Iraq's
war of liberation from the Americans is just about to

17 April 2003

It's going wrong, faster than anyone could have
imagined. The army of "liberation" has already turned
into the army of occupation. The Shias are threatening
to fight the Americans, to create their own war of

At night on every one of the Shia Muslim barricades in
Sadr City, there are 14 men with automatic rifles.
Even the US Marines in Baghdad are talking of the
insults being flung at them. "Go away! Get out of my
face!" an American soldier screamed at an Iraqi trying
to push towards the wire surrounding an infantry unit
in the capital yesterday. I watched the man's face
suffuse with rage. "God is Great! God is Great!" the
Iraqi retorted.

"Fuck you!"

The Americans have now issued a "Message to the
Citizens of Baghdad", a document as colonial in spirit
as it is insensitive in tone. "Please avoid leaving
your homes during the night hours after evening
prayers and before the call to morning prayers," it
tells the people of the city. "During this time,
terrorist forces associated with the former regime of
Saddam Hussein, as well as various criminal elements,
are known to move through the area ... please do not
leave your homes during this time. During all hours,
please approach Coalition military positions with
extreme caution ..."

So now – with neither electricity nor running water –
the millions of Iraqis here are ordered to stay in
their homes from dusk to dawn. Lockdown. It's a form
of imprisonment. In their own country. Written by the
command of the 1st US Marine Division, it's a curfew
in all but name.

"If I was an Iraqi and I read that," an Arab woman
shouted at me, "I would become a suicide bomber." And
all across Baghdad you hear the same thing, from Shia
Muslim clerics to Sunni businessmen, that the
Americans have come only for oil, and that soon – very
soon – a guerrilla resistance must start. No doubt the
Americans will claim that these attacks are "remnants"
of Saddam's regime or "criminal elements". But that
will not be the case.

Marine officers in Baghdad were holding talks
yesterday with a Shia militant cleric from Najaf to
avert an outbreak of fighting around the holy city. I
met the prelate before the negotiations began and he
told me that "history is being repeated". He was
talking of the British invasion of Iraq in 1917, which
ended in disaster for the British.

Everywhere are the signs of collapse. And everywhere
the signs that America's promises of "freedom" and
"democracy" are not to be honoured.

Why, Iraqis are asking, did the United States allow
the entire Iraqi cabinet to escape? And they're right.
Not just the Beast of Baghdad and his two sons, Qusay
and Uday, but the Vice-President, Taha Yassin Ramadan,
the Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, Saddam's
personal adviser, Dr A K Hashimi, the ministers of
defence, health, the economy, trade, even Mohammed
Saeed al-Sahaf, the Minister of Information who, long
ago, in the days before journalists cosied up to him,
was the official who read out the list of executed
"brothers" in the purge that followed Saddam's
revolution – relatives of prisoners would dose
themselves on valium before each Sahaf appearance.

Here's what Baghdadis are noticing – and what Iraqis
are noticing in all the main cities of the country.
Take the vast security apparatus with which Saddam
surrounded himself, the torture chambers and the huge
bureaucracy that was its foundation. President Bush
promised that America was campaigning for human rights
in Iraq, that the guilty, the war criminals, would be
brought to trial. The 60 secret police headquarters in
Baghdad are empty, even the three-square-mile compound
headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

I have been to many of them. But there is no evidence
even that a single British or US forensic officer has
visited the sites to sift the wealth of documents
lying there or talk to the ex-prisoners returning to
their former places of torment. Is this idleness. Or
is this wilful?

Take the Qasimiyeh security station beside the river
Tigris. It's a pleasant villa – once owned by an
Iranian-born Iraqi who was deported to Iran in the
1980s. There's a little lawn and a shrubbery and at
first you don't notice the three big hooks in the
ceiling of each room or the fact that big sheets of
red paper, decorated with footballers, have been
pasted over the windows to conceal the rooms from
outsiders. But across the floors, in the garden, on
the roof, are the files of this place of suffering.
They show, for example, that the head of the torture
centre was Hashem al-Tikrit, that his deputy was
called Rashid al-Nababy.

Mohammed Aish Jassem, an ex-prisoner, showed me how he
was suspended from the ceiling by Captain Amar
al-Isawi, who believed Jassem was a member of the
religious Dawa party. "They put my hands behind my
back like this and tied them and then pulled me into
the air by my tied wrists," he told me. "They used a
little generator to lift me up, right up to the
ceiling, then they'd release the rope in the hope of
breaking my shoulder when I fell."

The hooks in the ceiling are just in front of Captain
Isawi's desk. I understood what this meant. There
wasn't a separate torture chamber and office for
documentation. The torture chamber was the office.
While the man or woman shrieked in agony above him,
Captain Isawi would sign papers, take telephone calls
and – given the contents of his bin – smoke many
cigarettes while he waited for the information he
sought from his prisoners.

Were they monsters, these men? Yes. Are they sought by
the Americans? No. Are they now working for the
Americans? Yes, quite possibly – indeed some of them
may well be in the long line of ex-security thugs who
queue every morning outside the Palestine Hotel in the
hope of being re-hired by the US Marines' Civil
Affairs Unit.

The names of the guards at the Qasimiyeh torture
centre in Baghdad are in papers lying on the floor.
They were Ahmed Hassan Alawi, Akil Shaheed, Noaman
Abbas and Moham-med Fayad. But the Americans haven't
bothered to find this out. So Messrs Alawi, Shaheed,
Abbas and Fayad are welcome to apply to work for them.

There are prisoner identification papers on the desks
and in the cupboards. What happened to Wahid Mohamed,
Majid Taha, Saddam Ali or Lazim Hmoud?A lady in a
black chador approached the old torture centre. Four
of her brothers had been taken there and, later, when
she went to ask what happened, she was told all four
had been executed. She was ordered to leave. She never
saw or buried their bodies. Ex-prisoners told me that
there is a mass grave in the Khedeer desert, but no
one – least of all Baghdad's new occupiers – are
interested in finding it.

And the men who suffered under Saddam? What did they
have to say? "We committed no sin," one of them said
to me, a 40-year-old whose prison duties had included
the cleaning of the hangman's trap of blood and faeces
after each execution. "We are not guilty of anything.
Why did they do this to us?

"America, yes, it got rid of Saddam. But Iraq belongs
to us. Our oil belongs to us. We will keep our
nationality. It will stay Iraq. The Americans must

If the Americans and the British want to understand
the nature of the religious opposition here, they have
only to consult the files of Saddam's secret service
archives. I found one, Report No 7481, dated 24
February this year on the conflict between Sheikh
Mohammed al-Yacoubi and Mukhtada Sadr, the 22-year-old
grandson of Mohammed Sadr, who was executed on
Saddam's orders more than two decades ago.

The dispute showed the passion and the determination
with which the Shia religious leaders fight even each
other. But of course, no one has bothered to read this
material or even look for it.

At the end of the Second World War, German-speaking
British and US intelligence officers hoovered up every
document in the thousands of Gestapo and Abwehr
bureaux across western Germany. The Russians did the
same in their zone. In Iraq, however, the British and
Americans have simply ignored the evidence.

There's an even more terrible place for the Americans
to visit in Baghdad – the headquarters of the whole
intelligence apparatus, a massive grey-painted block
that was bombed by the US and a series of villas and
office buildings that are stashed with files, papers
and card indexes. It was here that Saddam's special
political prisoners were brought for vicious
interrogation – electricity being an essential part of
this – and it was here that Farzad Bazoft, the
Observer correspondent, was brought for questioning
before his dispatch to the hangman.

It's also graced with delicately shaded laneways, a
creche – for the families of the torturers – and a
school in which one pupil had written an essay in
English on (suitably perhaps) Beckett's Waiting for
Godot. There's also a miniature hospital and a road
named "Freedom Street" and flowerbeds and
bougainvillea. It's the creepiest place in all of

I met – extraordinarily – an Iraqi nuclear scientist
walking around the compound, a colleague of the former
head of Iraqi nuclear physics, Dr Sharistani. "This is
the last place I ever wanted to see and I will never
return to it," he said to me. "This was the place of
greatest evil in all the world."

The top security men in Saddam's regime were busy in
the last hours, shredding millions of documents. I
found a great pile of black plastic rubbish bags at
the back of one villa, each stuffed with the shreds of
thousands of papers. Shouldn't they be taken to
Washington or London and reconstituted to learn their

Even the unshredded files contain a wealth of
information. But again, the Americans have not
bothered – or do not want – to search through these
papers. If they did, they would find the names of
dozens of senior intelligence men, many of them
identified in congratulatory letters they insisted on
sending each other every time they were promoted.
Where now, for example, is Colonel Abdulaziz Saadi,
Captain Abdulsalam Salawi, Captain Saad Ahmed
al-Ayash, Colonel Saad Mohammed, Captain Majid Ahmed
and scores of others? We may never know. Or perhaps we
are not supposed to know.

Iraqis are right to ask why the Americans don't search
for this information, just as they are right to demand
to know why the entire Saddam cabinet – every man jack
of them – got away. The capture by the Americans of
Saddam's half-brother and the ageing Palestinian
gunman Abu Abbas, whose last violent act was 18 years
ago, is pathetic compensation for this.

Now here's another question the Iraqis are asking –
and to which I cannot provide an answer. On 8 April,
three weeks into the invasion, the Americans dropped
four 2,000lb bombs on the Baghdad residential area of
Mansur. They claimed they thought Saddam was hiding
there. They knew they would kill civilians because it
was not, as one Centcom mandarin said, a "risk free
venture" (sic). So they dropped their bombs and killed
14 civilians in Mansur, most of them members of a
Christian family.

The Americans said they couldn't be sure they had
killed Saddam until they could carry out forensic
tests at the site. But this turns out to have been a
lie. I went there two days ago. Not a single US or
British official had bothered to visit the bomb
craters. Indeed, when I arrived, there was a
putrefying smell and families pulled the remains of a
baby from the rubble.

No American officers have apologised for this
appalling killing. And I can promise them that the
baby I saw being placed under a sheet of black plastic
was very definitely not Saddam Hussein. Had they
bothered to look at this place – as they claimed they
would – they would at least have found the baby. Now
the craters are a place of pilgrimage for the people
of Baghdad.

Then there's the fires that have consumed every one of
the city's ministries – save, of course, for the
Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Oil – as well
as UN offices, embassies and shopping malls. I have
counted a total of 35 ministries now gutted by fire
and the number goes on rising.

Yesterday I found myself at the Ministry of Oil,
assiduously guarded by US troops, some of whom were
holding clothes over their mouths because of the
clouds of smoke swirling down on them from the
neighbouring Ministry of Agricultural Irrigation. Hard
to believe, isn't it, that they were unaware that
someone was setting fire to the next building?
Then I spotted another fire, three kilometres away. I
drove to the scene to find flames curling out of all
the windows of the Ministry of Higher Education's
Department of Computer Science. And right next to it,
perched on a wall, was a US Marine, who said he was
guarding a neighbouring hospital and didn't know who
had lit the next door fire because "you can't look
everywhere at once".

Now I'm sure the marine was not being facetious or
dishonest – should the Americans not believe this
story, he was Corporal Ted Nyholm of the 3rd Regiment,
4th Marines and, yes, I called his fiancιe, Jessica,
in the States for him to pass on his love – but
something is terribly wrong when US soldiers are
ordered simply to watch vast ministries being burnt by
mobs and do nothing about it.

Because there is also something dangerous – and deeply
disturbing – about the crowds setting light to the
buildings of Baghdad, including the great libraries
and state archives. For they are not looters. The
looters come first. The arsonists turn up later, often
in blue-and-white buses. I followed one after its
passengers had set the Ministry of Trade on fire and
it sped out of town.

The official US line on all this is that the looting
is revenge – an explanation that is growing very thin
– and that the fires are started by "remnants of
Saddam's regime", the same "criminal elements", no
doubt, who feature in the marines' curfew orders. But
people in Baghdad don't believe Saddam's former
supporters are starting these fires. And neither do I.

The looters make money from their rampages but the
arsonists have to be paid. The passengers in those
buses are clearly being directed to their targets. If
Saddam had pre-paid them, they wouldn't start the
fires. The moment he disappeared, they would have
pocketed the money and forgotten the whole project.

So who are they, this army of arsonists? I recognised
one the other day, a middle-aged, unshaven man in a
red T-shirt, and the second time he saw me he pointed
a Kalashnikov at me. What was he frightened of? Who
was he working for? In whose interest is it to destroy
the entire physical infrastructure of the state, with
its cultural heritage? Why didn't the Americans stop

As I said, something is going terribly wrong in
Baghdad and something is going on which demands that
serious questions be asked of the United States
government. Why, for example, did Donald Rumsfeld,
Secretary of Defence, claim last week that there was
no widespread looting or destruction in Baghdad? His
statement was a lie. But why did he make it?

The Americans say they don't have enough troops to
control the fires. This is also untrue. If they don't,
what are the hundreds of soldiers deployed in the
gardens of the old Iran-Iraq war memorial doing all
day? Or the hundreds camped in the rose gardens of the
President Palace?

So the people of Baghdad are asking who is behind the
destruction of their cultural heritage: the looting of
the archaeological treasures from the national museum;
the burning of the entire Ottoman, Royal and State
archives; the Koranic library; and the vast
infrastructure of the nation we claim we are going to
create for them.

Why, they ask, do they still have no electricity and
no water? In whose interest is it for Iraq to be
deconstructed, divided, burnt, de-historied,
destroyed? Why are they issued with orders for a
curfew by their so-called liberators?

And it's not just the people of Baghdad, but the Shias
of the city of Najaf and of Nasiriyah – where 20,000
protested at America's first attempt to put together a
puppet government on Wednesday – who are asking these
questions. Now there is looting in Mosul where
thousands reportedly set fire to the pro-American
governor's car after he promised US help in restoring

It's easy for a reporter to predict doom, especially
after a brutal war that lacked all international
legitimacy. But catastrophe usually waits for
optimists in the Middle East, especially for false
optimists who invade oil-rich nations with ideological
excuses and high-flown moral claims and accusations,
such as weapons of mass destruction, which are still
unproved. So I'll make an awful prediction. That
America's war of "liberation" is over. Iraq's war of
liberation from the Americans is about to begin. In
other words, the real and frightening story starts

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